Saturday, October 23, 2010
Neftali Feliz in control of heat, nerves
By Jeff Caplan
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Amazingly through 11 postseason games and seven victories, Texas Rangers rookie closer Neftali Feliz has yet to enter a single one in a save situation.
If he finds himself trying to close out a World Series game, the Rangers are apt to feel much more confident in their 40-save man after the 22-year-old found his footing in his final two appearances against the New York Yankees in the ALCS.
In the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays, Feliz showed his youth and his nerves. He walked the first batter he faced in his first two outings. All season, Feliz had just three first-batter walks. The Rangers blew it off as first-time postseason jitters. But, when he walked two more in his first appearance against the Yankees in a blowout situation, there was some legitimate head-scratching.
Although Feliz has still not been tested in the ninth inning of a tight ballgame, the Rangers believe that he has at least overcome whatever nerves or adrenaline that severely increased the fireballer's walk ratio. In those first three appearances spanning 2.1 innings, He had five walks to just three strikeouts.
In three ALCS appearances, he did not allow a run or a hit, just the two walks in the 7-2 victory in Game 2. In his last two appearances, both big-lead situations in the ninth inning, Feliz turned the lights out quickly.
In Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, Feliz needed 20 pitches to finish off Cliff's Lee gem. He struck out Derek Jeter with a 3-2 fastball, got Nick Swisher on a grounder and struck out Mark Teixeira on a 99 mph foul tip, Feliz's sixth pitch of the at-bat. Twice in the inning, Feliz hit 100 mph.
In the Game 6 clincher Friday night, Feliz again shut down the Yankees in order. This time he would need just 14 pitches in his most impressive outing of the postseason. Feliz recovered from a 3-1 count on lead-off man Curtis Granderson to get him swinging at 98 mph heat. Robinson Cano saw four fastballs and grounded out to second. Alex Rodriguez became Feliz's final victim and the last out of the series.
Rodriguez saw three consecutive fastballs at 100, 99 and 98 mph to fall behind, 1-and-2. Then Feliz threw his first curve ball of the inning. The bender was clocked at 83 mph and it buckled Rodriguez, who was rung up without a hint of an argument. In his last two innings, Feliz has two walks and five strikeouts.
If Feliz finally does find himself in the pressure of a save situation in the World Series, he can become the fifth-youngest pitcher ever with a postseason save, and the youngest since Pittsburgh's Don Robinson in the 1979 NLCS.
Surely, that moment is coming.